Fortune before the Fortune Cookie

5 12 2009

Financially speaking, 2009 has been a pretty brutal year at our house.

Last year, I cut my business to devote more time to writing.  This year, those clients I kept slashed fees…and, repeatedly, skipped or delayed payments.  For the second year in a row, family “stuff” required multiple trips back to Texas…and multiple withdrawals from checking and savings accounts.

For the most part, we’ve stared down the creeping fear that comes from being on a financial cliff (or is it off?!) by reminding ourselves that dreams don’t become reality without sacrifice. That and acknowledging that you can only have so many $200 dinners before they start to taste like, well, dinner!

But fear did get the best of me the other night.  I had just ordered Chinese food  ($20 is the new $200!) when a family member called.  We hadn’t chatted in awhile and , for some reason, I soon found myself laying out  the harsh realities of our financial situation.

“I’m so sorry,” she said.  “I’m soooooo sorry.” (As if I didn’t get it the first time!)

“It’s fine, really.”  I responded the first time, as I felt the first stirrings of Fear awakening deep in the pit of my stomach.

“I’m so sorry,” she repeated.  Fear, meet Failure.

“Everything will work out fine,” I said.  Fear and Failure were building an army by now.

“Well, I hope so.  It must be so upsetting to see everything you worked for disappear.”

“I’m actually quite calm,” I lied because, by this time, the allied forces were barreling down my soul with one target in mind:  Courage.

I hung up the phone and covered myself in a warm blanket of Doubt while I waited for a very stiff martini to numb what was sure to be a crushing blow.

And then the doorbell rang.

It was the Chinese food, delivered by a central casting delivery man.  Not a college kid trying to earn a few extra bucks, but an adult trying to feed his family.

As I went to pay him, I tried to pay forward some of that Fear I had.  “How are your holidays going?” I asked.  “It’s a tough year.”

“Yeah,” he said.  “But, hey man, at least we’re living!”

It was the first time I received my fortune before I had even eaten my Chinese food!

“F*%k you,” I promptly told Fear and Failure and the army they rode in on.

Maybe our household was failing by the standards  money or labels or status.  Or security.

But, what the hell?

Not to get too “Lifetime moment” here, but you can’t take any of those things with you.

Did my husband and I want to cloak ourselves in those things society tells us equal success…or did we want to venture out, beyond where the safety net reaches, and create our own definition?

To paraphrase a Zen buddhist I love, did we want to pretend that the plane of life was just a bus?  Ignoring its wings and just taxiing from destination to destination?

Hell no.

Baby, this bird’s got wings.  And we’re taking off.

We may or may not make it…but, hey man, at least we’re living!


A day of rebels, poverty, destiny, political fundraisers…and innocence

10 06 2009

When I first was called to this spirit journey, I remember asking someone “When will the next message come?”  Chuckling, she said, “The messages are always there—every moment of every day. The question is when will you be ready to receive them?”

That moment..that wisdom…came to mind repeatedly yesterday.  It was one of those great gifts of a day filled with messages…and stories.  In other words, a typical day where you see how extraordinary the ordinary is.  There’s a months worth of stories in the day, but rather than cage the stories and put them on a shelf , today feels like a day to recount them as they were–moments that simply floated by me on life’s river.

REBEL REBEL I started my day yesterday as I start everyday:  by pulling a Tarot card form my Osho deck.  The card was “The Rebel”…a great reminder of the inextricable link between freedom and responsibility…not “responsibility” as duty, but as “responding” based on the present moment vs “reacting” based on past memories (for you Tarot card readers, the corresponding cared in more traditional decks is “The Emperor”).

POVERTY AND ILLUSIONS I had coffee with a new friend to talk about the “business” of writing.  We did that, but first we got into a conversation about poverty–and how dated the common image of poverty is.  That moment led to questions about why we perpetuate such extreme stereotypes–why do we trick ourselves into believing that “poverty” means you’re a homeless, unemployed bum.  Perhaps, we offered, it’s because stereotypes create the illusion of a wall separating “us” from “them”.   If you define poverty as being about bums begging on the street (vs, say,  the young kids/college graduates who serve you coffee every morning), then you’re safe from the bogeyman.  By the way, play with this idea by inserting third rail topics like abortion or any minority and see what happens.

WHOSE DESTINY IS IT ANYWAY? Early in the afternoon I was chatting with a graduate of a client’s leadership development program.  I asked what she got out of the experience.  ” I realized that my destiny is MY destiny,” she said, spur of the moment.  What a great lesson for anyone whose parents were emotionally AWOL or whose spouse beats them; who didn’t get a job because of the color of her skin or who was laughed at–IS laughed at–because the gods put a woman’s spirit in a man’s body.  One of life’s fundamental questions is “whose life are you going to live?”  There are two answers:  “Life as others define it” or “My life as it, simply, is.”  My destiny is my destiny.  Love it!

(BAD) POLITICAL THEATRE. My day ended with a political fund raiser.  If you’ve never gone to one, don’t.  If you have, you’ll know that Bowie was talking as much about fund raisers as adolescence when sang “same old thing, in brand new drag” in “Teenage Wildlife”!  Fundraisers truly are god-awful affairs–a Brechtian version “Groundhog Day” that always tell the same story, the story of power.  No one looks anyone in the eye.  You’re always looking slightly past the person you’re talking with to line up your next prospect.  Someone who will give you their power…or admire yours (since I have a lazy eye, I was particularly adept at this in my political days!).  So, there I was, watching the actors act out the same lines (some with the freshness of their first time on stage, others with the weariness of one for whom politics has become a job, not a cause).   I’ve seen this show before, I thought.  I left the stage awhile ago and now it’s time to leave the theatre.  And, then, I ran into two friends…which brings me to…

INNOCENCE. These guys–both architects—embody the Zen concept of “innocence”.  Both have owned their own firms for many years.  Yet, each time you see them, it is as if they’re starting their first job.   Every day really is new to them, because–even after years of doing what on the surface looks like the same thing–they have mastered the gift of know-ing that every day really is new.  They don’t sit in the audience and watch the same play over and over.  Nope, they write their own play every day—filled not with old memories, but, rather, with what Joseph Campbell called “the rapture of being alive”.  What a gift…and what a lesson.  A lesson that I could go through life and watch the play I expect to see (it’s always there, after all!).  OR, I can bypass that theatre and go see, hell go write,  new plays.  They may not draw the crowds, but you can’t beat the quality.

Not bad for a day’s life.

In praise of darkness

2 06 2009

“I’ve got a really dark cloud hanging over my head,” I said when my husband how I was doing this morning (aren’t you glad you don’t live with me?!?!!).

“I’m sorry,” he said (the standard, socially mandated response to such a comment).

“I’m not,” I replied.  He looked at me as he increasingly does (as if I’m crazy) and went off to work.

But I’m really not sorry I have this dark cloud following me around—much like that old Peanuts character.  (And don’t worry, this post isn’t an invitation to a “pity party” as my mother would say.  I mean I’m all for navel-gazing.  I just prefer to gaze at my own navel in private.  I know…how very un-Facebook-ish of me!!

Nope, today’s post is about why “darkness” has such a bad rap.  Or, rather, a call for it to be valued as much as “lightness”.

To me, there’s something to be said for the Eastern way of looking at darkness as simply one side of the same coin.  A coin that can’t be whole without both light and dark, without yin and yang.  For the record, “darkness” to me is a catch-all for death, anger, fear,   hate…all those very human emotions that we lock away in the basement of our souls.  So, if you follow this belief, you see that hate makes love stronger, that it is death that creates life, and that fear empowers courage.

Now, of course, all of this is a bit unusual for a Texan.  Where I come from it’s just dadgummed impolite to exhibit darkness (Texans tell someone who’s house is on fire that their garden is coming along nicely).  And it’s really unusual for someone living in Boston.  Emotions?  In Boston?  Towards politics or sports, hell yeah!!! Show emotion to each other? What are you crazy!?!?!!!  How very un-Puritan of you!!

Actually, it’s a bit unusual for an American.  We seem to be a Stepford country when it comes to darkness.

Economy in the shitter?  “Why yes,” we say in unison, “but, me, I’m fine.  Just read my Facebook updates….my vacuous, numbing Facebook updates. Look for me on Twitter…so you can see how, every minute, I’m just fine. Really.  Fine.”

And President Obama increasingly looks like our Stepford-in-Chief.  Dark clouds simply are not allowed over his White House…or his country.  Largest bailout in history (following several other large bailouts in history)?  “Tough times ahead”, he says–but let’s not dwell on that.  Let’s go to New York for a date night or invite NBC News in for a two-hour puff piece on the interior of the White House.

What?  You say perhaps we should spend two hours on exactly what it means for the American taxpayer to go into the car business or the banking business?  What are you crazy?  Where’s my remote?  I need to catch up on Susan Boyle and Jon and Kate…now THOSE people have troubles, not me!

Now, I’m not saying we should dwell in darkness or wallow in it (I’m a little Irish, but not THAT Irish).  We shouldn’t cling to the dark…the same way we shouldn’t cling to the light. We should keep moving—because life keeps moving.

Writing this, I remember one of my many favorite scenes from the movie “Cabaret”.  Liza Minnelli is walking down a Berlin street and hears a train coming.  “Oh hurry, darling,” she says to her companion.  She runs and runs and runs until she’s under the bridge the train passes over.  As it passes, she lets out a blood-curdling scream (this was before Liza found other ways to release stress!).   And then she just laughs and gets on with her walk.

Everyone in America needs to find a bridge right now.  Not to jump off of, but to go under and scream as the train passes overhead.  We need to express the darkness whenever we feel it–for our country, our marriages, our careers, our dying or dead loved ones, our lives.  Express it.  Scream, shout, punch a pillow, jump around.  Whatever moves you.  Just receive it–fully and with gratitude–and then, give a smile and get on with your day.

Yup.  I’ve got a dark cloud over my head today.  It’s gonna be a damned-good day!

A moment to turn in

18 05 2009

“Seek and ye shall find.”  In so many ways, Christ’s words have been my mantra these past three years as I’ve struggled to, first, find my footing and, then, respond to the call that came at the most inconvenient time in the most inappropriate of places (in others words, at the perfect time!).

It’s a call so many wonderful souls I’ve encountered along this path seem to be trying to answer.  They’re not–we’re not–alone.

Several years ago, the New York Times had to create a separate best seller list for self-help books because they were squeezing out traditional fiction and non-fiction.  Obama was elected because he had the audacity to hope (and we voted for him because we had the audacity to “hope” that he’d wave a magic wand and make all our troubles disappear–requiring “them” to change, but not “us”).

Yes, we are a nation of seekers.  There are two problems.

First, the answer lies not outside.  It’s not in a new president, in a self-help book, on TV or at a yoga retreat.  It’s within us.  As Rumi says of lovers (“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They are in each other all along.”), so can we say of seekers.

And, second, it’s not “the” answer, either.  To  paraphrase Osho, Christ’s answer worked for Christ; Buddha’s worked for Buddha; Muhammed’s for Muhammed.  They sought…and found..their own path.  It is only because so few do that we hold them up as saviors, prophets and the like.

We each carry our own answer…”AN” answer, uniquely, wondrously ours.  Sure, Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam carry clues, tips and directions to seeking our own truth.  But why in the world would you abdicate to someone else–no matter how wise (or popular)–the most fundamental gift of your life:  to create and live your truth?

Are we put here simply to re-trace the footsteps of someone else.   To live a “Groundhog Day” of Spirit where it’s the same scene, the same lines over and over.  Really…don’t you think God, the Spirits or whatever deities you believe in are a bit more creative and original than that??

I do.

That’s why I’ve come to believe that the “calling” of three years ago wasn’t some grand summon to THE mountaintop.  Nah, it was a call to let go of all the “stuff” society tells us is important..the bills, the politics, the drama we create to keep life intellectually stimulating (and dreadfully dull!).  To let go and dance my own footsteps.  Laughing at the realization that they are footsteps that wash away as soon as I create them, but my footsteps nonetheless.

Anyone wanna dance?

Completed moments: What America can learn from Osho and Zen

15 05 2009

“When’s the last time you fully completed something?”  This was the main question Osho*, the fabulous rascal of a Zen master, greeted me with this morning.

His premise is that we basically never complete anything and that uncompleted things stay with us…nagging our subconscious…until they’re completed (which, of course, following a lifetime of uncompleted act, they never are).  “That’s why you see old men fidget and talk out loud so much,” Osho reasons.  “Death approaches and their ego-driven minds are rushing to complete a lifetime of incomplete living.”  And, to Osho and Zen masters, incomplete living is false living.  A gift squandered.

What a perfect question for this American moment.  We don’t complete anything in this country of ours where our collective attention span makes a gnat look thoughtful.  We don’t complete the good, we don’t complete the bad.  I’ll never forget watching Obama’s inauguration and marveling at how the commentators spoke right up until the moment when Chief Justice Roberts began the (incorrect) oath and then picked right back up the moment Obama’s final word was spoken.  There was no silence to  let the moment simply drift into our consciousness in its own natural form.  And now, of course, Obama is leading the charge of incompletion by refusing to let folks have complete conversations about everything from waterboarding to the recession to the auto industry to health care to how America fits into a global world.  The spin is that  if something is bad, it’s because of the past eight years.  If it’s good, it’s because of the past 120 days.  And if it’s complicated (gay rights?), well, we’re much too busy to talk about that now.  The problem with allowing only incomplete conversations is that they paralyze.  Sure, you may be running as fast as you can–away from something.  But you’re standing perfectly still or being pulled back.  Because, as Jung and others point out,   you can lock the shadow, the darkness, the pain in the basement of your consciousness.  But, sooner or later, it will get out.  And, when it does, it will stalk you until you face it…and embrace it….and let it complete you.

So, what to do?

What if, each of us, vowed to complete–fully–one thing per day for 40 days.  It doesn’t have to be big (life’s all folly, anyway–so why overexert yourself!!!).  How about drinking your first cup of coffee or tea fully.  Savoring, tasting, smelling, sensing each taste.  Completely.  Not while you check your mail.  Get dressed. Read the paper or absent-heartedly tell your lover or child to have a good day.  What if you just complete-y enjoyed that cup of tea.  No time, you say?  Do you really think you’re that important?  Look around at the trees, the wind, the earth, the people, the world.  Do you think any one, any thing, will miss a beat if you simply do one thing to completion as opposed to 15 things half-assed?

Try it.  And, maybe, as we try completing things individually we can complete them collectively.  We can peel the layers of greed and ego that have come to define America since 1980 and see what really has been going on here.  We can complete the pain, the fear that put us on that path in the first place.  And we can move through it to complete the vision–the purpose, true purpose–of our lives and our country.

Enjoy your coffee…completely.

*  Never heard of Osho?  He’s an irascible SOB of a Zen master introduced to me by an irascible SOB of a friend named Charles.  Check him out at